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What is 2 + 2?


Dear Avid Arithmetician,

The answer to your question could not be more obvious. “2 + 2,” clearly, is half of an equation.

On a more contemplative level, however, “2 + 2” is a series of three markings, two of which represent quantities and one of which tells us to combine the other two. It is a curious thing to ponder, how these particular swirls and strokes came to represent, for us, the number two and the concept of addition.

Though algebra teaches us to always perform operations in a certain order, it is perhaps easier here to work backward. The symbols we now equate with the numbers zero through nine were introduced to Europeans gradually during the Middle Ages, beginning when Arabs invaded Spain in the eighth century and brought the numerals with them. A couple hundred years later French mathematician Gerbert of Aurillac studied the Arabs’ numbers and system of calculation. Gerbert later became Pope Sylvester II and encouraged the use of Arabic arithmetic in Europe. (“Arabic numeral,” 2007). Another breakthrough occurred in the 12th century, when an Italian trader in Algeria noticed his Arab counterparts could perform calculations without an abacus. The trader was so impressed that he sent for his son, and compelled him to study the Arabs’ mathematics. That boy was Fibonacci, and in 1202 he published Liber Abaci, which further promoted what are today sometimes known as Arabic numerals (Prochazka, 2015).

However, the ten digits – and the crucial innovation of using a digit’s position to convey its value – were not actually Arabic. They came to the Arabs from India. In the Indus Valley the trail becomes muddled. Some believe the numerals the Arabs learned from the Hindus were descendants of numerals used in Brahmi script, an ancient system of writing used in India during the third century B.C. (Flegg, 1983). However, as historian Joseph Mazur wrote, “There is no clearly established, smoothly defined lineage from early scripts to modern ones” (Mazur, 2014). Hypotheses of the origin of the Brahmi numerals are myriad, variously pointing to virtually every corner of the ancient Asian and Mediterranean worlds.

The plus sign is of much more recent German origin. It appeared in Michael Stifel’s 1544 treatise Arithmetica Integra. Prior to that, it might have been a used in keeping inventory in German warehouses (Masur, 2014). Others have suggested it might have be a simplified form of an earlier symbol or a sort of shorthand for the Latin word “et,” meaning “and” (Flegg, 1983).

The Seeker realizes you might not have been looking for an answer more rooted in arithmetic. So, to respond in a more straightforward manner, 2+2 is … 2 x 2, 22, |-4|, [(4 sin x +4) – 4 sin x], √16, 8 + -4, 20/5, 400 x 10-2, etc., etc., etc. 


“Arabic Numeral.” (2007). In World of Scientific Discovery. Gale. Retrieved from

Flegg, G. (1983). Numbers: Their history and meaning. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Mazur, J. (2014). Enlightening symbols: A short history of mathematical notation and its hidden powers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from 

Prochazka, H. (2015). “The Indian Numbers.” Australian Mathematics Teacher, 71(1), 30. Retrieved from a href="

Answered on 2016-04-29 15:39:06


Just curoius as to whether you guys still had the pictures of BRACKENs "ROOTS". Photos taken fron the TOP ( up the ladder on the back wall of university theatre back by the counterweight system. thru the hatch and out on to the roof ) of university theatre during the begining phases of construction. Tell Dr. Bloom ( theatre/dance ) Hello from some yeah-who red haired cowboy from 1970's. I also haven't been swiping any light bulbs form active productions lately.


Dear Red-Haired Cowboy from the 1970s, 

Libraries have always had a mission to preserve items of intellectual, cultural, or historical significance. Archives & Special Collections, on Bracken Library's second floor, houses materials that tell the story of Ball State University in rich detail, and thanks to the efforts of the archivists who work there, digital reproductions of these documents and pictures are available online. 

These electronic items are available in the Digital Media Repository. The DMR is organized into collections, and of particular note for your question is the Ball State University Campus Photographs Collection. This collection is comprised of upward of 40,000 images, many depicting the development and the campus and its buildings. 

The Digital Media Repository is searchable via a search box near the top of the page. (An advanced search feature is also available.) "Bracken Library construction" will suffice for search terms, but to narrow to photographs only you will need to apply one of the filters on the left side of the results page. Click "type" and then "still image." 

The combination of the search terms and the filter should lead you to a list of several dozen photos of Bracken Library in various stages of construction. A few of these show the south side of the building taking shape in October 1973 and appear to have been taken from several feet above ground - perhaps from atop the University Theatre

Dr. Gilbert Bloom retired from full-time teaching in 2004 but still teaches part-time in the Department of Theatre and Dance, continuing his 54 years (and counting) of service at Ball State. The Seeker is confident Dr. Bloom will be relieved to learn you've found a better place to acquire light bulbs. 

Answered on 2016-03-17 10:46:33


Why does Bracken not have a front door? (there's only two entrances) 


Also, is it haunted? What wives tales are there about the library? 


Dear Doorkeeper,

The University Libraries’ Archives & Special Collections holds a treasure trove of information about Ball State history and is a can’t-miss destination for anyone researching the university’s past. There, The Seeker found a multitude of materials dating back to the time of Bracken’s planning, design, and construction.

The Seeker presumes you’re asking why the library has no door on its west side, facing The Atrium. Midway between the first discussions about a possible new library in 1966 and the opening of Bracken in 1975, such an entrance was considered. “The entrance to the new library should be located where it is convenient to the greatest number of users and this suggests that the entrance be on McKinley Avenue.” (A Statement of Program, 1970.) Less than four months later, however, architectural plans approved by Ball State’s Board of Trustees in October 1970 included only the north and south entrances we know today.

What happened? It seems concerns about cost and lighting won out. In a 1966 meeting with university administrators, consultant Keyes Metcalf cautioned that situating a new library in the middle of campus would foster temptation to make the building symmetrical, with entrances on all four sides, which he said would be costly. Metcalf also advised that if the building be more rectangular than square, it should be oriented east-west to allow sunlight to enter from the north (Fraser, 1966). Undated notes from a meeting that appears to have taken place around October 1970 also note the desire to avoid having the sun’s rays pouring in directly (Fraser, n.d.).

As for myths about the library, doubtlessly the most widespread is that Bracken was designed to resemble a row of books standing on a shelf. Indeed, for some the library’s environs are a massive brick-and-concrete Rorschach test, with neighboring buildings said to simulate a drafting table (Architecture Building), a concert piano (Pruis Hall), and a typewriter (Whitinger Business Building). As it pertains to the library, though, the principal architect in the building’s design utterly demolished the oft-told tale in a 1997 interview.

“It just happens to look that way,” Robert K. Gloyeske said. “It certainly wasn’t preconceived. It’s just coincidental.” He explained that the building’s size prevented it from being built with a simple, flat façade. (Plothe, 1997). 

The unintended nature of Bracken’s book-like appearance certainly doesn’t mean you have to stop seeing it that way though, or that it’s any less apt or fun. And whichever entrance you choose, inside you’ll find five floors packed with resources and assistance – your destination for research, learning, and friends. 


Fraser, M. (1966, February 22). [Handwritten meeting notes]. Ball State University Subject Files (Box 51, Folder 8). Ball State University Archives & Special Collections, Muncie, IN.

Fraser, M. (n.d.). [Handwritten meeting notes]. Ball State University Subject Files (Box 51, Folder 8). Ball State University Archives & Special Collections, Muncie, IN.

Plothe, T. (1997, August 22). Tales out of school. Ball State Daily News, Diversions section, pp. 1, 8).

A Statement of Program for the Proposed New Library. (1970). Ball State University Subject Files (Box 51, Folder 8). Ball State University Archives & Special Collections, Muncie, IN. 

Answered on 2015-12-30 11:18:54

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